Published on June 4th, 2015 | by Clint Davis
Summary: David Cronenberg's future-shock take on our fragile economic state bores its audience to tears while talking down to them. Robert Pattinson proves to be the caliber of actor we've come to expect from 'Twilight' alums.
R | 109 min.
Director: David Cronenberg | Screenplay: David Cronenberg (based on Don DeLillo’s novel)
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Gadon
Studio: Toronto Antenna | Distribution: eOne Films
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film that tries this hard to make you dislike it. Take a high-brow concept which you only explain with vague language, distant lead performances, drab visuals, and a quiet claustrophobic setting–and you’ve roughly got Cosmopolis.
When you sit down to watch a film by Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg you know to expect thought-provoking subject matter presented in a performance-heavy, artfilm manner. This movie has all of that but unlike some of his best work, it just doesn’t have the acting power needed to keep an audience interested in its nearly two-hours of screentime–let alone its sluggish first act. Movie about chaos, high-stakes finance, New York City, and badass cars are surefire recipes for excitement. Those four elements plus a young oversexed executive should have made for a gripping film, but they end up feeling neutered in Cosmopolis.
Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) is a 28-year-old billionaire financial asset manager who cruises around NYC in a limousine that doubles as his office. On the way across town for a haircut, Packer’s vehicle is visited by various acquaintances including employees who tell him his fortune is in grave danger because of a recent bad investment. As he sees his wealth liquidate on a bevy of smartphones and mobile computers, he goes through his daily routine despite the ongoing riots in the streets around his car. Among the individuals he talks with that day are his frigidly proper wife Elise (Sarah Gadon) and the homicidal commoner Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti), bent on bringing Packer to his knees.
The plot is promising but Cronenberg’s screenplay manages to suck the life out of this relevant tale of financial crisis and technologic overload. Cosmopolis is one of those films that tries way too hard to sound smart by dazzling you with fast-paced dialogue about a subject most people (including myself) are laymen–global economics. Plenty of films have dealt with headier subject matter than this but the trick is to engage the audience and not speak to them like children. When I watch Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, I’m not getting bogged down in the fine print of economist-ese because there’s a human story at play and the characters are brilliantly brought to life. Eric Packer is a disconnected and unexciting stuffed shirt.
I can respect a director taking a chance in the casting department, God knows when Steven Soderbergh grabbed Debbie Doebereiner for 2005’s Bubble, he could’ve gotten pure crap but ended up with a masterpiece. However, that’s not Cronenberg’s game. Since his breakthrough Scanners, he’s cast strong actors like James Woods, Jeff Goldblum, Jeremy Irons, Ralph Fiennes, and Viggo Mortensen as male leads in his best films. Here, he decided to throw Robert Pattinson a chance at being taken seriously as a dramatic performer–and he crapped out.
Pattinson is in nearly every frame of this film and therefore is largely to blame for its failures. The supporting cast gives him a ton of help including Juliette Binoche, Mathieu Amalric, and Paul Giamatti–who are each given one scene and are infinitely more memorable than the film’s star. Defenders of the film will say Pattinson was playing the part of a cold, emotionally-distant control-freak thus making his cold, emotionally-vacant performance fit–but that’s just a Twilight boner clouding their judgement. This is the type of young yuppy undesirable that Michael Douglas or Christian Bale would have crushed in their day. Hearing Pattinson uncomfortably deliver lines about a paramore’s “tits” feels so stilted that he would have sounded more believable had he likened them to bags of sand. He simply doesn’t seem to have the chops for a part that’s this demanding.
As a Cronenberg fan, I wanted to like Cosmopolis but it simply didn’t work on any level. Even the Big Apple is rendered powerless by the film’s insincere style. Inside Packer’s limo, the city outside is eerily silent–driving home how disconnected he is from the real world. The movie’s message is relevant, especially with a subplot of 99-percenters revolting against people like our central character by throwing dead rats at him.
I would have settled for tomatoes.